PERSONAL: Born in London, England. Education: Birmingham University, Ph.D., 1986. Hobbies and other interests: Listening to, collecting, and critiquing music.
ADDRESSES: Office—Department of Sociology, London School of Economics, Houghton St., London WC2A 2AE, England. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Goldsmith's College, London, London, England, lecturer in sociology, until c. 1998; Yale University, New Haven, CT, professor of sociology and African-American studies, c. 1998–2005; Anthony Giddens Professor in Social Theory, 2005–. Visiting professor at Birmingham University, South Bank Polytechnic, and Essex University; former guest curator, Tate Gallery and House of World Cultures, Berlin, Germany; former board member, Greater London Council. Has also worked as a disc jockey.
AWARDS, HONORS: American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation, 1994, for The Black Atlantic.
The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1993.
Problems in Anti-Racist Strategy, Runnymede Trust, 1987.
Small Acts: Thoughts on the Politics of Black Culture, Serpent's Tail (New York, NY), 1993.
(With Iain Chambers) Hendrix, Hip-Hop e l'interruzione del pensiero, Costa & Nolan (Genoa, Italy), 1995.
The Status of Difference: From Epidermalisation to Nano-Politics, Goldsmiths' College Centre for Urban and Community Research (London, England), 1995.
Joined up Politics [and] Post-Colonial Melancholia (lectures), Institute of Contemporary Arts, 1999.
(Editor, with Lawrence Grossberg and Angela McRobbie) Without Guarantees: In Honor of Stuart Hall, Verso (New York, NY), 2000.
Against Race: Imagining Political Culture beyond the Color Line, Belknap Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000, published as Between Camps: Race, Identity, and Nationalism at the End of the Colour Line, Allen Lane (London, England), 2000.
After Empire: Melancholia or Convivial Culture?, Routledge (London, England), 2004, published as Postcolonial Melancholia, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to books, including The Empire Strikes Back: Race and Racism in '70s Britain, Hutchinson (London, England), 1982; The Eight Technologies of Otherness, edited by Sue Golding, Routledge (London, England), 1997; Becoming National: A Reader, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1996; and The Post-Colonial Question, edited by Iain Chambers and L. Curti, Routledge, 1996. Contributor to journals, including Third Text, Journal of Black Music Research, and Media Education. Member of editorial board, New Community, Callaloo, and Cultural Studies.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Real Time, a story of black music in the second half of the twentieth century; a survey of the politics of race in contemporary Britain.
SIDELIGHTS: Sociologist and educator Paul Gilroy is not one to shy away from controversy; his There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation launched him early on into the midst of the controversy over what it means to be black in late-twentieth-century Great Britain. "Gilroy has always been a maverick. His books are difficult in both senses of the word—hard to read (although always rewarding) and highly troublesome," commented Bryan Cheyette in the London Independent. "He blends sociology, moral philosophy and cultural theory into a heady brew," wrote Sukhdev Sandhu in the London Observer.
In There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack Gilroy describes the theories that define and give shape to racism and postulates what could and should be done to overcome racially biased ways of thinking. He examines the movements of the economically disadvantaged and suggests that the avenue to social change may be found on the grassroots level, among local men and women who find their cultural traditions threatened. Reviewer David Edgar, writing in the Listener, observed: "For an anti-racist to argue for localism is, in a sense, surprising. It's even stranger to find a socialist emphasising the importance of traditions in the threatened communities he describes…. But in his longest chapter—on British black culture in general, and its music in particular—Paul Gilroy demonstrates effectively that cultural traditions are not static, but develop, grow and indeed mutate, as they influence and are influenced by the other changing traditions around them."
Moving away from contemporary culture and expanding his scope, Gilroy turns to a history of what he calls the black diaspora in The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. The black Atlantic is a person of this diaspora—one who was forcibly removed from his home country but never fully assimilated into his new one. It is this displacement that necessitates the "double consciousness" of Gilroy's title. In his view, it is impossible to draw national boundaries to define the thought and experience of this tradition. "Gilroy seeks to rediscover the traditions of the black Atlantic," explained a reviewer for Sociology Online. "He does so in the works of [nineteenth-century abolitionist and former slave] Frederick Douglass, [twentieth-century] sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois, and the novelist/critic Richard Wright. Here Gilroy is establishing a set of precepts for the black Atlantic. These three are not just able theorists but personifications of the black Atlantic." Gilroy harnesses the idea of the diaspora to illustrate the similarities between black culture in America, Britain, and the Caribbean in relation to Africa.
Hailed as "a bold and brilliant rethinking of the political geography of race" by Eric Lott in the Nation, The Black Atlantic drew praise for its originality and the way in which Gilroy weaves examples ranging from the life of rock musician Jimi Hendrix to the works of novelist Toni Morrison. "Possibly Gilroy's most striking insights come from analyses of black musicians," suggested Stephen Howe in the New Statesman. However, some reviewers found that extracting these gems is a bit difficult: "Gilroy's best examples are sometimes buried in passages of forbidding abstraction, but when they appear they light up the sky," wrote Lott, who added, "The whole book is cranked up to a very high philosophical pitch…. It drags down Gilroy's flights of brilliance with dull slabs of abstract prose." Simon Critchley, writing in Sociology, concluded that the work "is an absolutely stunning book—passionate, profound, readable and relevant—that I cannot recommend too highly. It is a book which has fundamentally changed the way in which I (as philosopher rather than a sociologist) see the inter-linked themes of race, culture and identity. Gilroy's conclusions have challenged and begun to change the way in which I read, think and relate to my discipline—I can think of no higher praise."
Small Acts: Thoughts on the Politics of Black Culture is a collection of essays written by Gilroy between 1988 and 1992. It acts as a companion piece to The Black Atlantic, with some of the essays in Small Acts giving further depth to topics mentioned in Gilroy's previous book. Small Acts includes Gilroy's conversations with Toni Morrison and critic bell hooks, as well as articles he has written and talks he has given. In Small Acts, as well as in Black Atlantic, Gilroy seeks to find some middle ground between the belief in Afrocentrism and the notion that one's color is irrelevant. "The author skillfully and sensitively examines concepts such as Afrocentrism, ethnic absolutism, or cultural insiderism," wrote E.A. McKinney in Choice. "He not only interprets the role they currently play within the black diaspora, but also identifies their limitations in furnishing blacks with a future social/political/cultural survival kit."
In what may be Gilroy's most controversial work, Against Race: Imagining Political Culture beyond the Color Line, the author postulates that by thinking of ourselves and dividing on the basis of race, we do a great disservice to humanity and open the doors to future fascist movements. Fascist thought, he contends, is not limited to white people, and he offers proof in the examples of Marcus Garvey, who led a popular Back-to-Africa movement in the 1920s and 1930s, and in the slaughter between the Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda. Stanley Aronowitz, writing in the Nation, explained that Against Race is "a powerful, albeit minoritarian defense of the position that racial thinking—not just racism—is a key obstacle to human freedom." Aronowitz added, "Gilroy spares from his critique neither black pride nor black separatism, let alone racism's most virulent forms, fascism and colonialism," adding: "The core of fascism is biological essentialism manifested in the marriage of racial identity with nationalism, ideas that won the admiration of Garvey and some other black nationalists. Moreover, like many nationalisms, Garvey's was anti-Semitic, and Gilroy shows that he admired Hitler." As Cheyette wrote, "There is so much that is worthwhile in this book that one can forgive almost any eccentricity." Acknowledging the author's somewhat controversial position, Aronowitz concluded: "Gilroy's reach is dazzling, his analysis acute and insightful, but in the end he recognizes that, lacking a political constituency for his planetary humanism, his ideas remain not a program but a utopian hope."
In Postcolonial Melancholia—first published as After Empire: Melancholia or Convivial Culture?—Gilroy presents four Wellek Library lectures he gave concerning critical theory and in which he discusses such issues as how the historical idea of "race" has hurt democracy. R. Owen Williams, writing in the Black Issues Book Review, noted: "The thesis is that multicultural politics are best understood from the perspective and in the context of imperial and colonial history." The reviewer added of Gilroy that, "If his poststructuralist vocabulary doesn't leave you spinning, his big ideas surely will."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
African American Review, fall, 1997, Peter Erickson, review of The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, p. 506.
Art Journal, summer, 2004, Derek Conrad Murray, "Hip-Hop vs. High Art: Notes on Race as Spectacle," p. 4.
Black Issues Book Review, September, 2000, Fred Lindsey, review of Against Race: Imagining Political Culture beyond the Color Line, p. 56; May-June, 2005, R. Owen Williams, review of Postcolonial Melancholia, p. 63.
Choice, October, 1994, E.A. McKinney, review of Small Acts: Thoughts on the Politics of Black Culture, p. 329.
Independent (London, England), May 27, 2000, Bryan Cheyette, "In the Colours of the Future: After the Misery of Ethnic Politics, Can We Imagine a World without 'Race'?," p. 11.
Journal of Black Studies, July, 2001, Molefi Kete Asante, review of Against Race, p. 847.
Journal of Literary Studies, June, 2002, Gugu Hlongwane, "What Has Modernity to Do with It?: Camouflaging Race in the 'New" South Africa," p. 111.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 1994, review of Small Acts, p. 218; February 15, 2000, review of Against Race, p. 224.
Library Journal, March 15, 2000, Frank H. Wu, review of Against Race, p. 110.
Listener, June 4, 1987, David Edgar, "Racism and Patriotism: Should the Left Be Trying to Recapture the Idea of 'One Nation'?," pp. 44-45.
London Review of Books, March 10, 1994, Adam Lively, "Fisticuffs," p. 16.
MELUS, winter, 1998, Kenneth Mostern, review of The Black Atlantic, p. 167.
Nation, May 2, 1994, Eric Lott, "Routes," pp. 602-604; November 6, 2000, Stanley Aronowitz, "Misidentity Politics," p. 28.
New Statesman, December 4, 1987, Jeffrey Weeks, review of There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation, p. 31; November 5, 1993, Stephen Howe, review of Small Acts and The Black Atlantic, p. 37.
Observer (London, England), June 4, 2000, Sukhdev Sandhu, "Is Snoop Doggy Dogg Really a Race Warrior?," p. 11.
Polity, April, 2004, Joel Oson, review of Against Race, p. 529.
Postmodern Culture, September, 1994, Russell A. Potter "Black Modernisms/Black Postmodernisms."
Research in African Literatures, spring, 2002, Isidore Okpewho, "Walcott, Homer, and the 'Black Atlantic,'" p. 27.
Sociology, November, 1994, Simon Critchley, review of The Black Atlantic, p. 1008.
Theory, Culture, and Society, Volume 16, number 2, 1999, Vikki Bell, "Historical Memory, Global Movements, and Violence: Paul Gilroy and Arjun Appadurai in Conversation."
Village Voice Literary Supplement, April, 1992, review of There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack, p. 19; May 2, 2000, Simon Reynolds, "Hybrid Fidelity," p. 69.
Washington Post Book World, February 6, 1994, Aldon L. Nielsen, "Caught in a Double Bind," p. 7.
Sociology Online, http://www.sociologyonline.co.uk/ (August 29, 2001), "Paul Gilroy: Black Modernism—From Slaveship to Citizenship."
University of Birmingham, London School of Economics Web site, http://www.lse.ac.uk/ (September 27, 2005), faculty profile of Gilroy.
Z Online, http://www.zmag.org/ (April 18, 2006), bell hooks, "Thinking about Capitalism: A Conversation with Cultural Critic Paul Gilroy."